House aims to reduce generational crime

Diana and her son, Ryder, have been a part of Craine House. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis is home to a unique way to give mothers convicted of crime a different choice and a fresh start. It’s a program that is expanding due to its success.

When IMPD Officer Perry Renn was shot and killed this summer, some of the talk turned to generational crime — when a son follows his father into a life of crime, passing it down through generations.  But what about moms and their babies? Craine House is Indiana’s solution.

Three-month-old Axel becomes a fussy baby in the arms of his mother. She talks to him softly, calming him. The new mom isn’t calming her son in the baby’s bedroom. Kara’s a convicted felon who lives at Craine House. In and out of trouble for a decade, a drug conviction finally sent her to the Indiana Women’s Prison. I-Team 8 is not using her last name to protect the mother and child as they begin a new life.

“I’d never been to prison. That did me in,” Kara said. “I was only there for three weeks and it’s scary.”

She was moved to Craine House on Michigan Road, an alternative to prison. At Craine House, non-violent felons can live with their kids ages 5 and under. It’s the only one in the state and one of only six of its kind in the country.

“I wouldn’t be able to have him in prison with me,” Kara said of her son, adding she wouldn’t know him.

Preserving the bond of mother and child is key. The program is tough, but Kara says it’s beneficial.

“They taught me how to be a mom and a good person,” she said.

Each woman in the work release program is required to work a job, take the baby to a day care and go to on-site counseling.  Suzanne Pierce, executive director of Craine House, says structure is important to success.

“We want the women to carry that same structure when they are released from Craine House,” Pierce said. “We get the women into the ritual (of) bed time and bath time with the babies.”

Crain House uses the mother and child bond to break the cycle of abuse, poverty and crime from being passed down through generations.

“Our moms simply need to be re-parented,” Pierce said. “If we don’t get a hold of them quickly they are going to turn around and use some of those same parenting skills on their own kids that were utilized on them, or maybe lack thereof.”

According to the Center for Effective Public Policy, the number of women sent to prison is up 300 percent in recent years. 75 percent of them are mothers. Their children are then five times more likely to also end up in prison. It comes with a cost to society: American taxpayers spend $60 billion per year on this country’s prison system.

Kara holds a picture of young babies, describing it as if it were a family photo. To her, it is.

“These are all the babies that were born within two months,” she said, pointing to seven babies in the photo. “All here.”

While it costs about $50 per day to house them at Craine, the women also pay $105 weekly to live there. Kara could have walked out of Craine House three months ago. She chose to stay. She wants to end the cycle and succeed.

“I just wasn’t ready to go home,” Kara said. “I didn’t feel it was a good idea for me and him — my sobriety and our life. It just wasn’t the right thing to go back to a town where I have done nothing but cause problems.”

The National Criminal Justice Reference Service shows nationwide the recidivism rate — those women who will be back to prison — is 60 percent. At Craine House, it’s just 20 percent. Pierce believes the dramatic difference is changing the landscape of Indiana’s next generations to stay crime free for years to come. She says the women are like any others in most ways.

“Don’t push them away because you see ‘felony.’ Sit down and talk with them, because I think once they do they’ll see they are just like anybody else,” Pierce said. “They just simply have made bad choices in their life.”

Kara and Axel left Craine House Thursday, nervous but excited to start their new life.

“I’m nervous, just because it all is going to be new,” Kara said. “But we will be with my dad and have a strong support system. It is going to be a new chapter in our life.”

This program has grown since Bishop John Craine started it more than 30 years ago. Originally started in 1978, Craine founded the original program for women coming out of the prison system. Next week they’ll grow again, doubling the number of women they’ll house to 40. This is a non-profit and costs less than prison at $57 per day.

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